Research shows that spanking children can lead to future aggression and violence
Most Americans think spanking is necessary, although the number is declining
Experts argue that spanking is ineffective, but parents might rely on it if they were spanked
Parents who believe in “spare the rod, spoil the child” might be setting their children up to become violent toward future partners, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of Pediatrics.
“We asked 758 kids between 19 and 20 years old how often they had been spanked, slapped or struck with an object as form of punishment when they were younger,” said the study’s lead author, Jeff Temple, a psychiatry professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch. “Kids who said they had experienced corporal punishment were more likely to have recently committed dating violence.”
This result, he said, held up even when contributing factors such as sex, age, parental education, ethnicity and childhood abuse were controlled.
“One of the advantages of our study was to control for child abuse, which we defined as being hit with a belt or board, left with bruises that were noticeable or going to the doctor or hospital,” said Temple, who specializes in dating, or relationship, violence. “Regardless of whether someone experienced child abuse or not, spanking alone was predictive of dating violence.”
The result was no surprise to Dr. Bob Sege, a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatricians who specializes in the prevention of childhood violence. The academy strongly opposes striking a child for any reason, pointing to research that links corporal punishment to mental health disorders and aggression.
“This study confirms and extends previous research that says children who experience violence at home, even if it is couched as for their own good, end up using violence later in their lives,” said Sege, who was not involved in the new research.
“For children, their parents are the most important people in the world, and they learn from them what are social norms and how people should behave toward each other,” he added. “Corporal punishment confuses the boundaries between love and violence for children while they are learning how to treat others.”
Boston University Associate Professor Emily Rothman, an expert in partner violence, agreed: “The experience of having someone direct aggression to you increases the likelihood that you’ll fall back on aggression when in a flight or fight moment. Having been hit by the parent can elevate stress and reduces a child’s coping skills, so they may lash out.”
A nation of spankers
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child defines corporal punishment as “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light.”
Though spanking or slapping is most common, the committee also identifies behavior such as “kicking, shaking or throwing children, scratching, pinching, biting, pulling hair or boxing ears, forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions, burning, scalding or forced ingestion” (such as washing a child’s mouth out with soap) as forms of corporal punishment.
Calling any form “invariably degrading,” the committee’s Global Initiative has persuaded 53 countries since 2001 to pass laws banning corporal punishment, even in the privacy of a home. The agency says another 56 countries are working to pass similar laws.